As AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa is slated to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi next week, her first visit to the national capital after being sworn in Tamil Nadu Chief Minister for the sixth time, there is considerable interest in political circles here over the fate of the letter the state government had written sometime back “seeking permission” of the Union Home ministry to remit the sentences of the seven life convicts in the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
The former Chief Secretary, K. Gnanadesikan, had written to the Central government earlier in March this year, just before elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly was formally called, on this issue with more petitions urging the state government to exercise its powers under Article 161 of the Constitution to remit the sentences of all the seven life convicts in the case as they had all spent nearly 24 years already in jail.
The state government seeking the Centre’s formal nod had become a necessity with the Supreme Court making it clear in December 2015 that states have “no independent powers” to release convicts tried in very serious cases under Central Laws and investigated by the CBI.
Hence the Jayalalithaa government had again written to the Centre, in the backdrop of pro-Tamil sentiments favouring the release of Sriharan alias Murugan, A.G. Perarivalan, Santhan, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, Ravichandran and Nalini.
While Nalini’s death sentence had already been commuted to life thanks to the intervention of the Congress president Ms Sonia Gandhi on humanitarian grounds, the Supreme Court had commuted the death sentences of the others to life in February 2014.
Since, then the chorus for their release got louder in Tamil Nadu, particularly with Perarivalan’s mother, Mrs Arputham Ammal, directly appealing to Ms Jayalalithaa several times to take steps to release her son and the other convicts.
The issue, emotive and political at one level, has not evoked any firm response from the BJP government at the Centre, as it involved state’s response to terrorist crimes also. In fact, closer to the May 16 Assembly polls, there were reports in the media that the Centre had again rejected Tamil Nadu’s plea for permission to remit their sentences.
But, sensing it was a political hot potato, the Centre went quickly into a denial mode saying no final decision had been taken on Tamil Nadu’s latest request.
Hence, there is expectation in political circles now whether this issue would crop up when Ms Jayalalithaa meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week in Delhi, at a time the BJP is reportedly looking to expand its cooperation with the AIADMK in Parliament.